dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

Why do people say 'after dark' when what they mean is 'during dark'? After dark would be when it's light again, right? * There are 10 types of people in this world -- those who read binary, and those who don't. * I'm rethinking the whole brown rice thing. What if it's just more white liberal self-hatred? Whole wheat, honey, unbleached flour. All better. Sez who? * Eugene should be HQ for White People for Diversity. We'll fight for diversity to be included in books, which is where we know to look for it. * Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a man a pillow, and he'll dream of steak. * What can you say about a state that puts the town of North Bend 225 miles southwest of Bend? We rely on visitors for entertainment.

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Fifth Friday Fulminations

July 29th, 2016 · 2 Comments

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Fifth Friday Footnotes, Follow-ups and Far-Flung Fripperies:

  • We shouldn’t be surprised that people seem less dear and sincere with one another. We’ve stopped writing letters, where those two attributes are repeated and rehearsed.
  • Name a positive spree.
  • You’ve been given 24 hours. You must use them all, or you won’t be given 24 more.
  • At least for the moment, it looks like the only person who can prevent a President Trump is candidate Trump. Fortunately for Democrats, that doesn’t seem unlikely.
  • Cell phone cameras are transforming many situations from he-said-she-said to they-saw-we-saw.
  • It’s time to rotate your tires. You’re welcome.
  • I find it helpful to think of strollers and wheelchairs as generational bookends. They do the same thing for different people. In fact, I think we’d dread old age less if we learned to use those two wheely-words interchangeably.
  • Don’t stop to think how we water our lawns so we can mow them more. Or how we pave streets filled with potholes and then install speed humps to slow drivers.
  • “Stranger danger” is just one of many childhood lessons we overlearned. Another is “always try your hardest.” Driving unsafely when you’re late for a commitment is only one example.
  • In yard sale scheduling, Friday is the new Sunday. Thursday is the new Friday.
  • Which murders are assassinations? There must be a rule.
  • Here’s the simplest way yet to save the Postal Service: penny postcards. Loss leaders work for plenty of businesses, and this one would rebuild a helpful habit and reconnect people. Once people are happy to see their mail carrier again, solutions will emerge.
  • The Whiteaker: a neighborhood where the people are edgy, but their lawns are not.
  • There’s a sometime gap between law and order, where one undermines the other.
  • I’m not usually a pessimist, but I opened a can of soup the other day with an expiration date in 2018 and I thought, “Well, that’s presumptuous.”
  • How long before shoes are no longer sold exclusively in pairs?
  • Handicapped bike parking makes more sense than you think.
  • Class is measured better by what you expect than by what you have. This revelation may be America’s best contribution to economic theory.
  • Quick casual service at coffee and sandwich shops often ask for a tip before the service or product is delivered. Are those tips or bribes?
  • Beauty shared is beauty squared.
  • We confuse comfort with safety.
  • Demagoguery sprouts from a soil of envy, resentment and avarice.
  • Bask more.
  • The recent political bathroom wars offer a perfect symmetry between the left’s love of identity politics and the right’s fear-mongering about government intrusion and overreach.
  • Chronology tells us where to put things. It doesn’t tell us where they are.
  • Can eyeglasses make you more empathetic? You’re always toggling between how the world naturally looks to you and how it looks to others.
  • As we enter another bountiful harvest season, neighbors should gather together to jar, juice, preserve and share what they’ve grown. They’d be enjoying the long-term benefits that come from “putting up” with each other.
  • I miss winter for its beers.
  • Trolls on website comments sections are like modern graffiti artists, but without the athleticism or the derring-do.
  • ASAP was invented (as an initialism) by U.S. military leadership during the Korean War. Its first appearance in popular print was in 1955. Before that, people communicated deadlines with dates and times, not lazy platitudes.
  • Once there are two unrelated tasks to be completed ASAP, one won’t be. That’s not even logic. It’s physics.
  • If you really value diversity, go someplace where there’s nobody like you. Diversity is too often a comfortable concept for people who contribute nothing to it and a discomfort only for those who do.
  • Addled is wrong. It should be “subtractled.”
  • Are there any local restaurateurs willing to help people become more comfortable with strangers? Sunday night meals could be served only “family style” at tables of six or eight. Only the entrees would be served individually. Everything else would be shared, sometimes with people you’ve never met.
  • Rural economies reliant on extracting commodities are falling further behind as we increase efficiencies. Those displaced workers are then too often turning to opioids for relief, which are manufactured most often in cities.
  • We dare one another to finish our portions, as if that’s some sort of accomplishment.
  • I can no longer rely on my chin when I’m fitting a pillow into its case.
  • You’re old when you see an attractive young person and realize his or her parent would be too young for you.
  • Many recent tragedies used to be called “senseless killings.” I’m afraid we’re giving terrorism too much credit — and our own terror too little.
  • Under-ripe avocados are better than over-ripe avocados. There’s a life lesson in that, but I’m not sure what it is. #hassiteveroccurredtoyou
  • People crave certainty, but only for what it gives them: comfort.
  • Autists remind us how often we use language less than literally. Just one example: “When is your next birthday?”(You have only one, and that day is in the past.)
  • Pop quiz: Name the last Democratic President to enter the Oval Office without a majority in both the House and Senate. Answer: Grover Cleveland (1884)
  • Hashtags work like comedic rim shots. #dontgiveitaway
  • Just so you know, “want” entered our language as a noun, meaning “lack” in Old Norse and Middle English. When it became also a verb, we changed more than it did.
  • When is a jig anything but up?
  • GOP: Winning trumps all. Trump’s winning all.
  • How long before somebody combines a puzzle room with an airbnb lodging? “Solve these riddles to gain access to the bedroom. Or sleep on the floor.”
  • I hope NBA announcers are spending their off-season rehearsing new ways to describe three-point shots. It’s time to retire “from downtown.”
  • When somebody says we have to uproot terrorism or cynicism or anything else, check to see if they have dirt under their fingernails.
  • How do bicyclists stay liberal without listening to NPR at stop lights?
  • Could somebody please explain to me why Eugene doesn’t have a marijuana dispensary at 420 High Street?

==
Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Grins · Quips

“Stranger Danger” Fans Our Fears

July 22nd, 2016 · 3 Comments

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The world seems to be coming apart at the seams, so the question we should each be asking ourselves is how can we not follow that trend? It’s not that hard. You’re safer than you think.

You’re never completely safe. Eliminating every risk is impossible. Caskets offer something close to absolute security, until bugs eventually intrude or an asteroid careens our planet out of its temperate orbit.

After you die, your body is not completely protected. It’s just that you care less. Our challenge today is grounded in the opposite condition. We’re being trained to care so much that anxiety colors our everyday activities. Whenever that happens, as the saying unfortunately goes, terrorism wins.

Until the early 1960s, television network news was only 15 minutes long every weeknight. Walter Cronkite pushed for it to be doubled in response to Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1963. News has been expanding ever since. Well, no. News hasn’t expanded. News coverage has expanded. We have 24-hour news networks now, but not enough news to fill them, so stories — especially sensational ones — are endlessly repeated.

As a former editor at The Register-Guard liked to remind audiences, when 999 airplanes land safely, that’s not news. When one doesn’t, it is. But we’re not reminded about the 999 when we’re told about the one.

You may have heard the adage that governs many a newsroom: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Fear captures attention better than anything else. Advertisers like that. Changing the channel of turning it off is getting harder.

News consumption is no longer limited to appointment viewing or our daily commute. We may get pinged with a news alert on our phones while hiking in the wilderness. News often pops up while we’re checking a recipe or looking at a relative’s vacation photos.

So our dilemma is defined.

The news we’re told is mostly bad, shorn of context and unavoidable.

What can we do to remind ourselves of all the good that makes the occasional bad so notable? I have a few suggestions, all aiming to overcome the “stranger danger” fear instilled in us when we were young.

Pick from this menu or make up your own. Each sounds a little bit frightening, but that’s the stranger danger reflex speaking.

My most ambitious suggestion is simpler than you would guess. Become an airbnb host. Or use airbnb or some other home stay alternative the next time you travel. I’ve done both and this is what I’ve learned. Almost everybody you meet is normal, considerate, even sometimes delightful.

Yes, there are occasional hiccups. There was the guest who asked for the wifi to be turned off because she was “very sensitive.” There was the chap who requested his sheets be washed twice with unscented detergent before he arrived. Or the fellow who wandered into our living room, asking if he could use our computer printer.

But those memorable few are vastly outnumbered by the people who are thoughtful and generous, respectful, helpful and grateful.

If that sounds too ambitious for you, try this. Use this newspaper’s classified ads (or Craig’s List, if you prefer) to buy or sell something not too expensive — a coffee pot, a bedspread, a tent, a bicycle. You’ll meet strangers who may have nothing in common with you except the thing that was listed. If the exchange proceeds, a need will be met between two people who don’t know one another. Almost certainly, nothing bad will happen.

Here’s the simplest one, and you may already be doing it every day. Ride an elevator with somebody you don’t know. While you’re doing it, remind yourself how risky it is to be enclosed in a metal box with people you don’t know. They could pull that red button and stop the car between floors. But they don’t. Over and over, day in and day out.

That’s what life is really like. Life resembles that elevator ride much more than anything you’re likely to see on the news. We can’t do much to mend the world’s seams, but we can change for ourselves how the world seems.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Deep · Media · Psycho

New Media is Growing Up

July 21st, 2016 · 1 Comment

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Don’t look now, but so-called New Media is growing up and it’s helping traditional media outlets stake a better future for themselves. Facebook, Twitter, Apple’s FaceTime, and even video games have begun making positive contributions that cannot yet be calculated.

Facebook Live was rolled out to users only a couple of months ago, but it’s already having an impact. Twice in the past few weeks, police have been caught on cell phone cameras shooting unarmed black men. In at least one case, the officer’s body cam had mysteriously malfunctioned just before the incident. In other cases, official video recordings must pass internal review before it’s released to the public, and that often takes months.

But now, because a passenger or passerby has a phone and Facebook already in hand, immediate recordings can be posted for all to see. “He said, she said” has been transformed into “they saw, we saw.” This undoubtedly will have some unpleasant consequences, but a society that claims to value openness just became more open.

Sometimes that commitment to openness is less than sincere. When Democrats in Congress staged a sit-in to promote gun control, Republican leaders gaveled the session closed, which effectively cut C-Span’s broadcast of the protest. When members of Congress began live-streaming the protest using their phones, C-Span showed those feeds to its viewers.

Turkey’s president was vacationing when a coup attempted to depose him last week. Rebels had taken control of the state-run television station, so President Erdogan used his iPhone’s video chat feature to address the country. CNN filmed the picture streaming on a phone.

The same day, an American presidential candidate announced his running mate on Twitter, half a day before the official news conference.

I had an encouraging experience myself with Facebook in the past two weeks. After I wrote a column about the Lane County Commissioners contemplating a law that would give them the authority to block any initiative petition they deemed “not of county interest,” one commissioner posted a clarification on my Facebook wall.

That prompted several clarifications of the clarification from other Facebook friends of mine — an attorney, a law professor, and a judge. I don’t know if their responses will be ultimately helpful, but I tagged each of the county commissioners to be sure they could benefit from insights that were definitely above my pay grade.

If I had to read about what my friends had for lunch for a decade before Facebook matured enough to exchange substantive information between friends of friends, maybe it was worth it.

And then there’s Pokemon Go, which is as silly as every other video game, except for three things. This game cannot be played sitting still. It uses the smart phone GPS function to reward those who travel great distances. My son has walked 70 kilometers in the past two weeks, playing the game.

He’s not walking in circles. The game uses real-world landmarks, inserting a layer of critters and lures and hints. It uses “augmented reality,” making it less escapist than its predecessors.

Players are outside, playing the game, talking to one another, sharing and cooperating. People who don’t know each other are helping one another. That’s the part of our reality that most needs augmenting.

Meanwhile, traditional media outlets are not standing still. Newspapers in particular are transforming themselves into media companies, competing for breaking news and providing copious listings that never could have been affordable when they were limited to tossing newsprint on doorsteps once a day.

Investigative journalism in particular may be undergoing an important renaissance. Whether it’s Bennett Hall in Corvallis retracing the nuclear fallout from a local program that ended in 1972, or Eugene’s Dylan Darling examining a controversial repaving project, reporters are refusing to take “no comment” for an answer.

News outlets have always told us what happened. Technology now allows us to watch what’s happening. That may sharpen the focus on stories that have been hidden from view. If investigative and interpretive journalism can fill in those important cracks, we may be entering a golden age for media and citizens alike.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ 1 CommentTags: arr-gee thumbnails · Civic · deekay · Media

Uprooting Requiring Weeding

July 15th, 2016 · 2 Comments

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I spent an hour this morning weeding. Of course, I couldn’t do something boring like that without thinking about things. My first thought was how boring weeding can be — boring, but necessary. Well, only necessary if the weeds are not compatible with nearby plants, or people’s expectations, or my own pleasure as I pass by.

When I hike in the woods, I don’t feel the urge to pull up every thistle I see — only the one that is currently lacerating my leg. The particular will always be felt personally, but the general exists more easily as metaphor, conveying only expectations without any specifics.

For many years, I couldn’t manage my large back yard. I couldn’t even name all the particular enemies on my horticultural hit list. I finally found an instant solution. I stopped calling it my yard and christened it “my meadow.” Everything was better, all at once. Words can sometimes wield that much power.

Instead of cataloguing my nemeses, I watched the area evolve on its own, hoping the meadow might someday grow into a wildlife preserve. Ducks, deer, butterflies and bees!

So weeding hasn’t been a big part of my life. Last month a neighbor recommended native strawberries as ground cover in my modest front yard. For some reason, even late in the season, that sounded like a good idea.

Now, 102 bare-root plants and three bags of compost later, I care about the weeds. In this case, I find myself caring about particular weeds, one at a time, because they are too close to a strawberry shoot, tall enough to block sun, or bright enough to distract passersby.

I’ve been watering the area every day for a week, so the soil works easily. I’ve learned which weeds send deep roots and which prefer spreading laterally. I’m learning which tools and techniques work best for uprooting each. And then I began to wonder about how the metaphor has become separated from its literal meaning.

There’s been so much talk in the media lately about “uprooting.” I wonder when each of those people pontificating about social ills that need uprooting last held a trowel or spade in their hand. I don’t see dirt under their fingernails.

Racism, terrorism, cynicism — they are significant problems that must be addressed, but an hour of gardening suggests we add one more to the list: the isms themselves.

If you haven’t experienced your own race as a detriment, you may not understand racism the same way as someone who has. Terrorism is the abstract problem we’d all love to see addressed, as if it will save us from the particular moments of terror that every life faces. Cynicism is particular before it ever become pervasive.

The same technology that gave us military bombs also gave us commercial fertilizer. Nitrogen can be powerful for destruction and for growing, but it also removes us from the particulars. The same technology gave us pesticides, which have mostly replaced weeding and eliminated uprooting. Why tend to each plant when you can spread chemicals that will do mostly the same thing?

Here’s one reason why. There is a natural order of things. Plants are easier to figure out than people, but the tools and the rules are not much different. Learning to tend the soil and watch new plants take root can be inspiring. Learning to protect them from pests and other competitors can be instructive.

Weeding is boring. It’s quiet, thankless work. It requires patience and persistence. Conditions on the ground present specific challenges. Different tools work better in different circumstances. It’s never really complete, at least not in the real world. And it really only matters in some larger context that you’d like to effect or control.

What if we fail at uprooting our debilitating social strains because we no longer uproot the weeds in our own gardens? The skills and lessons learned in the ground are applicable to nurturing and growing a society. Wouldn’t it be terrible to discover that isolating nitrogen for manufacturing bombs was less harmful to society than using it as fertilizer to remove people from the land that feeds them?

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ 2 CommentsTags: arr-gee thumbnails · deekay · Deep · Psycho · Pure Pol

The Problem of Pain Intolerance

July 15th, 2016 · No Comments

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America has a problem with pain killers, but focusing on pain relief is skipping a step. Opioid addiction is spiraling out of control, killing middle-aged women in trailer parks, rock legends in residential elevators, and all points in between.

In March the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued opioid prescription guidelines, hoping to stem the tide. The United States Congress appears poised to pass legislation that would assist efforts to curb opioid use and add new safety measures.

Efforts have focused on dissuading doctors from treating patients suffering from chronic pain with addictive opioids. Any resulting addiction can quickly become a more serious health hazard than the original malady. Decades of direct-to-consumer marketing and patient empowerment initiatives have cornered doctors into a lose-lose proposition.

If they give their patients the magic pills they believe will help them, they risk endangering that patient’s health and life. If they refuse their patients’ requests, they risk corporate discipline and possible reduction of federal funding, based on client satisfaction surveys.

Pain relief is a secondary problem. It overlooks the primary problem, which is pain itself. At the Olympic Trials, I saw a man wearing a U.S. Marines T-shirt with this message: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Author and theologian C.S. Lewis wrote an entire book about pain. He described pain as God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

What does it say about us that the pain hasn’t roused us, but the side-effects from making pain stop has? It may be the oldest doctor joke ever told: “Doc, it hurts when I do this!” prompts the reply, “Then don’t do that.”

That’s not what we want to hear. We want to keep doing everything we’re doing, even if it causes us pain. Except we don’t want the pain that comes with it. Why strengthen your muscles with exercise when steroids can have similar effects? Why give your heart and your joints less stress by losing weight, when pills can do the job with less effort?

Why face whatever pain you’re feeling when drugs are available to blunt or blur that pain? When we choose those easier paths, pain loses the opportunity to tell us something about our bodies, our selves, our life. Some of our efforts to lessen the pain can prevent us from learning the lesson of pain.

I recently asked outgoing Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy what she envisioned for herself next year and beyond. She confessed that her answer might sound hokey, but it was honest and fresh, since her birthday had been the day before. She cited Eugene as a great city for “aging in place” and she hopes to do just that, right here — enjoying what Eugene offers everyone. In that way, she’ll continue to be a leader.

I’ve learned from her and many others that facing death cannot be separated from embracing life.

We should acknowledge that chronic pain is a special problem, especially when there are no physical symptoms. If you twist your knee, a physician can stretch and poke it to better understand the source of the pain. Not so with chronic psychological pain, much less when the body and spirit are shouting together.

Self-reporting of symptoms is less reliable. There’s very little distance between feeling pain and feeling bad. Narcotics are notoriously good at muting both. Our techniques for treating people who feel pain too often make things worse for people who feel bad.

A pill might help a little, but saying “I’m sorry” or joining a bowling league or learning to swim could help a lot. Deeper remedies become also more distant when a pill promises to suffice. Once the pill’s limit is hit, the solution at hand — literally — is to take two.

And so it goes. The pain lessens, unless you count the mounting desperation. Asking for help could mean fewer pills, more pain, and still nothing is better.

All because we couldn’t stop to listen to the pain, to learn its lessons, to redirect our goals and effort toward better outcomes for ourselves and others. That’s the promise of pain.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ No CommentsTags: arr-gee thumbnails · Deep · Psycho · You-gene

The Fine Line Between Law and Order

July 15th, 2016 · 3 Comments

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When your grown son asks you for career advice, you drop what you’re doing. Several years ago, my younger son thought he might like to become a police officer. He’d already established himself as an effective problem-solver and all Kahle boys are adrenaline junkies. He liked staying physically fit, so he thought it might be a good job for him.

As it happens, a local police officer owed me a favor. He had listed me as one of his job references. I’ve done hundreds of job reference interviews over my career, but this one was by far the most thorough. His recruiter interviewed me for 45 minutes. In turn, my friend gave my son double that.

He asked my son what attracted him to police work. “I think I’d enjoy the physical challenge,” my son replied, “and I really like helping people.”

“Then you should be a fireman,” was my friend’s surprising reply. “Everybody’s glad to see a fire truck. But when a squad car pulls up, it’s never good news.” My son and I were both taken aback, but as he filled in the picture, it made more and more sense.

Plenty of important police work is quite mundane — filling out incident reports, building relationships, learning who on the street owes what to whom. A good day for a police officer is a day when they succeeded in preventing something that will now never happen. Trouble is, no one knows when that has occurred, including the officer.

Meanwhile, bad stuff keeps happening, and it’s only natural to wonder whether something could have been done earlier to prevent it. It’s a game you’ll never completely win, and the losses are often quite severe. That conversation turned my son in a different direction, but I would have been better equipped to support him if it hadn’t.

Last week’s headlines out of Dallas reminded me of the lessons I learned that afternoon. After a gunman picked off policemen lined up like a carnival game, we reeled in horror as a nation. “Never again” collided against “Never before.”

We think of ourselves as a contentious nation, boisterous in our competing beliefs, but it’s mostly been good clean fun. We fight one another, but when the bell rings, we stop. Cops can’t make the same comforting assumptions. I learned that from one of Eugene’s police chiefs.

I’ve attended hundreds of City Club presentations in Eugene, but one stands out from the rest. It was another police officer telling hard truths to a mostly dismayed audience. We didn’t learn until a month later that Eugene Police Chief Leonard Cooke had been secretly fired by then Eugene City Manager Vicki Elmer. Elmer gave Cooke two weeks to manage his affairs before the separation was made public.

He could have canceled his planned City Club presentation that week, and lesser leaders would have. Instead, he gave all of us his public exit interview, even if we didn’t know yet why. He spoke with bracing frankness about the difficulty of policing Eugene. He summed up the difficulty this way: “There is not wide consensus in Eugene about what constitutes acceptable behavior.”

In other words, police have to be on guard in every direction, because the protesters are often perceived to be the good guys. If the protest turns violent, cops can’t assume that bystanders will side with law and order. As events accelerate, they become more chaotic. And dangerous.

That’s where we are today. Accelerated, chaotic, dangerous. The scene in Dallas was horrific, but the lines of order formed quickly, even if it took a robot bomb to stop the spinning.

Meanwhile, “what constitutes acceptable behavior” is under daily siege.

Should a presidential candidate accuse a sitting judge of prejudice, based on the judge’s ethnic heritage? Should an ex-president intercept the U.S. attorney general for a private tarmac conversation while his wife is under investigation? Should the FBI director hold a press conference to detail wrongdoings that his agency recommends shouldn’t be prosecuted? Should a sitting Supreme Court justice take sides in the presidential campaign?

“Never before” — but that’s not much help.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Civic · Deep · Pure Pol · You-gene

Learning to Uproot Social Ills From the Ground Up

July 9th, 2016 · 2 Comments

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I spent an hour this morning weeding. Of course, I couldn’t do something boring like that without thinking about things. My first thought was how boring weeding can be — boring, but necessary. Well, only necessary if the weeds are not compatible with nearby plants, or people’s expectations, or my own pleasure as I pass by.

I don’t hike in the woods and feel the urge to pull up every thistle I see — only the one that is currently lacerating my leg. The particular will always be felt personally, but the general exists more easily as metaphor, conveying only expectations without specifics.

I found myself unable for many years to manage my large back yard. I couldn’t even keep track of the names of all the particular enemies on my horticultural hit list. Then I renames that quarter acre “a meadow,” and everything was instantly better. Instead of cataloguing my nemeses, I watched the area evolve on its own, hoping the meadow could someday grow into a wildlife preserve.

So weeding hasn’t been a big part of my life. (It was disproportionately large in my early adolescent years, which probably explains my aversion to it in adulthood.) Last month a neighbor recommended native strawberries as ground cover in my modest front yard, which has been covered mostly with dutch white clover for the last several years.

That sounded like a good idea for some reason. Now, 102 bare-root plants, five rows, and three bags of compost later, I care about the weeds. In this case, I found myself caring about particular weeds, one at a time, because they were too close to a strawberry plant, tall enough to block sun or bright enough to distract passersby.

I’ve been watering the area every day for a week, so the soil was pliable. I learned which weeds have deep roots and which plants prefer to spread laterally. I learned which tools and techniques work best for uprooting each. And then I began to wonder about the metaphor had become separated from its meaning.

There’s been so much talk this week about uprooting. I wonder when each of those people pontificating about social ills that need uprooting last held a trowel or spade in their hand. Racism, terrorism, cynicism — they are significant problems that must be addressed, but an hour of gardening suggests we add one more to the list: the isms themselves.

If you haven’t experienced your own race as a detriment, you may not understand racism the same way as someone who has. Terrorism is the abstract problem we’d all love to see addressed, as if it will save us from the particular moments of terror that every life faces. Cynicism is particular before it ever become pervasive.

The same technology that gave us bombs also gave us fertilizer. Nitrogen can be powerful for growing and for destruction, but it also removes us from the particulars. The same mentality and much of the same science gave us pesticides, which have mostly replaced weeding and eliminated uprooting. Why tend to each plant when you can spread chemicals that will do mostly the same thing?

Here’s one reason why. There is a natural order of things. Plants are easier to figure out than people, but the tools and the rules are not much different. Learning to tend the soil and watch new plants take root can be inspiring. Learning to protect them from pests and other competitors can be instructive.

Weeding is boring. It’s quiet, thankless work. It requires patience and persistence. Conditions on the ground present specific challenges. Different tools work better in different circumstances. It’s never really complete, at least not in the real world. And it really only matters in some larger context you’d like to affect or control.

What if we fail at uprooting our debilitating social strains because we no longer uproot the weeds in our own gardens? The skills and lessons learned in the ground are necessary for our success as a society. Wouldn’t it be terrible to discover that isolating nitrogen for manufacturing bombs was less harmful to society than using it as fertilizer to remove people from the land that feeds them?

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ 2 CommentsTags: arr-gee thumbnails · deekay · Deep · Psycho · Pure Pol · Simple · Small World

Government Efficiency’s Crown of Achievement

July 8th, 2016 · 2 Comments

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University of Oregon Football Coach Mike Bellotti held his usual press conference before a game against University of Southern California during its dynasty years. A reporter asked Bellotti if his Ducks had any chance of beating the Trojans that Saturday.

Bellotti paused for bemusement, then replied, “I don’t know. That’s why we play the game.”

This story seems relevant as the Lane County Board of Commissioners contemplate an ordinance that would give them the power to preempt any ballot initiative they deem to be not “of county concern.”

Preventing county citizens from voting on certain issues after they’ve collected sufficient signatures to place it on the ballot is worse than a patronizing pat on the head. It advocates a model of government efficiency that threatens to rotten its roots.

On its surface, the reasoning seems sound. Why should the county bear the expense to have voters choose between Nike and Birkenstock as the county’s official footwear? Or a plebiscite that gauges residents’ desire for GMO labeling? Or declaring Lane County a Nuclear Free Zone?

Why should any of these votes be worth the trouble or expense, if they cannot be enforced at the local level? Who wants to see time, energy or taxpayer money wasted? Well, sometimes the taxpayers do want to take a flyer, tilt against a windmill, defy the odds, or just do something ridiculous. That is their right.

Efficiency is overrated, especially in any democratic society.

Pollsters have gotten terribly accurate at measuring outcomes before voting begins, so why don’t we just skip the expense of holding an election whenever pollsters determine that the outcome is nearly certain? Uber-poll analyst Nate Silver correctly predicted all 50 states’ presidential preferences in 2012. Why not empower him to decree who will win, saving millions of Americans the trouble of standing in line to cast their votes?

Elections may seem expensive, but the cost of sending ballots and counting votes pales in comparison to the campaigns that seek to persuade voters. Every radio spot and every lawn sign costs money. And for everyone except the winner, those expenses were completely wasted.

Even some of the winners don’t end up with much to show for their effort. If they don’t vote with the majority, why should they bother voting at all? Why would minority members even bother to show up, if they feel certain that their vote won’t make a difference in the outcome?

Once those in the minority stopped showing up, we’d have a more efficiency. No more contentious debates. No boring but thorough inquiries. Everything would be smooth sailing if we ran a much tighter ship.

Do we really need five county commissioners? They so seldom agree! Most of Oregon’s smaller counties get by with only three commissioners. Furniture is so expensive — why pay for three chairs instead of one really nice one?

Having only one county commissioner would be so much more efficient — especially if we let him or her serve for as long as they wanted, saving us the expense and trouble of elections altogether. They might stay longer if we gave that person a special hat, and a scepter, and a throne.

Our nation’s model of divided government is inefficient by design. No state has voted on more ballot initiatives than Oregon. It’s messy on purpose. We like it that way, and it’s our money being “wasted.”

The truth is that we enjoy an eerily even split of perspectives and priorities across Lane County. Roughly half of the county’s residents live inside Eugene’s friendly confines. The county sprawls from ocean to mountain, with plenty of ridges and valleys in between. It’s a blessedly diverse landscape, populated with people who only amplify that diversity.

We elect commissioners to have some of the arguments we don’t have time to undertake ourselves. The role those five play is to articulate our arguments — not to answer them all as expeditiously as possible.

One former county commissioner once described a particular vote to me this way: “As I recall, it passed unanimously. The vote was 3-2.”

Yes, indeed. It’s why we play the game.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Bill and Loretta

July 2nd, 2016 · 3 Comments

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“Good afternoon, Mr. President, I — ”

“Please, it’s ‘Bill’. I’ve outlived my titles. You will too, Lori.”

“Loretta.”

“Thanks for stopping to meet an old bull like me.”

“Your plane blocked our access to the terminal.”

“Yeah, well, sorry about that. We never learned much about parallel parking back in Arkansas. You can take the boy out of the state, but the state of the boy don’t change. How’s your family, Lori?”

“Well, they —”

“Do you remember the time I invited them to the White House, back in ’99?”

“You didn’t invite my family to the White House, sir.”

“Well, that’s why I was asking if you remember, because I couldn’t! But that is just the sort of thing I would do, whenever I plucked an up-and-comer out of obscurity and put them on the fast track with a federal appointment. The circumstance is so much better with a little pomp added to it, don’t you think?”

“I always appreciated your confidence in me, sir.”

“Don’t thank me. Thank your parents. We needed a black woman who wouldn’t need any additional favors returned. It wasn’t a long list.”

“Nevertheless, I — ”

“I gave up on four-syllable words after Oxford. It’s worked out OK for me. And I must say, things have worked out OK for you too. Attorney General for America’s second black president! Look at you. Your children must be proud.”

“You’re a grandfather now, twice, I see. That must feel like something.”

“Chelsea is a great mom. You know why? She’s a worrier — always has been. When she was a teenager, she wanted to know how thick was the glass in the White House windows. Now the glass we talk about is the ceiling.”

“Sir, we really can’t — ”

“Of course WE can’t talk about Hillary’s future and how it’s gotten tangled up with your present, which only happened because of our past — yours and mine. We can’t talk about it, and WE won’t. But I will. Chelsea worries that her Mom won’t be remembered for her strengths. Maybe every daughter fears that. I don’t know.”

“Sir, we — ”

“Bill. I’ll ask my pilot to taxi out of your way in just a minute. I gotta first finish this part where we’re not talking about anything except family and stuff.”

“Thank you.”

“I want these grandkids of mine to know I made good choices. Good schools, good jobs, good people — like you — and a good wife. A wife who was better than me, except for the times when she knows it. I tell her all the time that bein’ smart ain’t always so smart. If we’re gonna make people’s lives better, we can’t be soundin’ so diff’rent from them or they won’t take it. Givin’ ’em what they need’s the easy part. Makin’ ’em want what they need — that’s tough sometimes.”

“You always did that folksy wisdom better than anyone.”

“Better than anyone white, anyway. You’re heading to Aspen next week. Much better than Phoenix in late June. Have they slotted you yet?”

“Friday.”

“Perfect. You’ll be talking to eggheads on a Friday. Rush and the TV folks won’t get to it until Monday. You’ll be asked about the ongoing investigation. That would be a good time to say things are wrapping up and that you’ll keep your thumb off the scale.”

“Things aren’t —”

“Whoop! Careful, Lori. WE can’t talk about this, remember? I’m just thinking out loud. Did you notice I haven’t asked you any questions except about your family? That’s all WE have talked about. That investigation will wrap up soon — it’s got to! We got an election to win. This old dog knows how to hurry things up, even when everybody’s busy doin’ nuthin’.”

“How is Seamus?”

“Beats me. But Buddy taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. Make a mess on the floor and the whole world starts spinning in a new direction. Our little accident today — this accidental meeting — will get things spinning.”

“I won’t tell anyone, sir.”

“No, but I will. Don’t let your pilot sit on the Tarmac much longer. The A/C on these planes isn’t built for idling. Say hello to my friends in Aspen. Give ’em an extra syllable for me.”

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ 3 CommentsTags: arr-gee thumbnails · Pure Pol

Eugene Can Grow (Up) This Week

July 1st, 2016 · 2 Comments

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Hey, Eugene! Would you like to be a big town? Would you like to have more than enough to do on almost any night of the year? Would you like our national reputation to no longer include the word “sleepy”?

Any place that wants to be a big town must first stop being a small town. We’ve all been to small towns and some of us have loved them. Some would be happy for Eugene to go back to the time when everything here was small and manageable. Unfortunately for them, attractive towns usually shrink only when disaster strikes.

Bigger doesn’t always mean better. The “better” part is really up to us, and how much kicking and screaming we do as we adapt. Eugene will always do more screaming than most places — our voices compete with drum circles — but we can aim for nearly no kicking.

Small towns keep things manageable by offering its residents just one thing at a time. One civic issue, one gossipy rumor, one community event — everybody waits their turn. Big places leave that single-file mentality behind. What was a march becomes a dance.

You know you’ve entered a big town when busy street corners have multiple panhandlers. One is stationed near the traffic light, hoping to intercept each car as it rolls past. Another roams between stopped cars during the red lights. Even when it comes to small change and energy bars, there’s enough to go around.

I haven’t seen any of this two-to-a-corner congestion in Eugene, but we may be on the verge of it. We’ve passed that verge on more positive indicators, at least in summertime.

Our community entertainment calendar has never been fuller than it is this week, and it’s never mattered more what we do about it. This is a call to action, people! We can step out and grow our town this week, or we can turn inward and shrink ourselves.

The Oregon Bach Festival is in full swing. It’s nearing its golden anniversary, but the festival is in a tender place this year. Matthew Halls is in his third season as artistic director and Janelle McCoy is in her first year as its executive director. Helmut Rilling is not slated for an appearance. A new generation of leadership is in place.

When a rookie quarterback takes the field, the role of the Autzen audience is (literally) amplified. McCoy and Halls need our support right now. There are no second chances for making a good first impression.

Selling out marquee performances for the Oregon Bach Festival is seldom a problem, but what about the more intimate interactions? Will the afternoon organ recitals be filled to the chord-soaked rafters? Will guest performers be recognized and greeted around town?

That’s up to us. But don’t stop there.

Tonight’s First Friday Gallery Walk will attract more walkers than usual, as well as many more people who are downtown for other reasons, wondering what’s going on. Watch the march become a dance.

Thousands of athletes and fans are here for the Olympic trials, showcasing Eugene as Track Town USA. Only a few tickets remain to get inside Hayward Field for the next ten days. Hotels began filling up almost a year ago. Eugene residents are moving in with friends so they can rent their houses to attendees.

Olympic organizers four years ago were most agog at the free Fan Festival staged beside Hayward Field. They’d never seen a town display so much enthusiasm for the sport. Eugene has not yet been promised the Olympic trials for 2020, but overflowing crowds at the Fan Festival will make our town’s offer hard to refuse.

This is where you come in. And go out, and then come in again.

It’ll be crazy for a week or two — much less manageable than usual. Enjoy it.

More drivers won’t know where they’re going. You may have to wait for a table at your favorite restaurant. Try not to scream, and certainly don’t kick. We’re hosting thousands of visitors, who are making up their minds about us. Meanwhile, we’re doing the same thing.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Arr-Gee published · Chamber · Civic · Psycho · You-gene